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In Augusta, some golf fans go to jail for buying Masters tickets

April 04, 2012|By Richard Fausset
  • The Masters leaderboard, in 1998. Protocol -- and tradition -- at the Masters is paramount.
The Masters leaderboard, in 1998. Protocol -- and tradition -- at the Masters… (Roberto Schmidt / Agence…)

Atlanta — If you're thinking about heading to Augusta, Ga., and trying to score a ticket to the 2012 Masters golf tournament this week, be warned: The rules for buying and selling tickets on the street are rigid, apparently not very well advertised -- and strictly enforced by local law enforcement.

There's a chance that you and your sporty knit polo and your Titleist visor might end up on the floor of the Richmond County jail.

Steve Crawford of the Augusta Chronicle reports 24 people were arrested just outside the Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday. They were charged with disorderly conduct, having allegedly run afoul of a ticket-scalping ordinance.

Crawford encountered a woman named Pam Harwell, who was sitting on a sofa outside the lockup, waiting for her husband, Aubrey Harwell Jr., to be released.

The Harwells had no idea they were allegedly engaging in criminal behavior when they offered a man $20 for a ticket. The law prohibits buying and selling tickets within 2,700 feet of the entrance, Crawford reports, but people such as Harwell had no idea the law existed.

"We did it right there in front of the officer. We didn't know," Harwell said.

The Masters, one of the world's most prestigious golf tournaments, is Augusta's signature event, drawing thousands of fans each spring. Tickets are notoriously hard to obtain through official channels. They're already sold out for this year's event, which runs through April 8. An "application process" for tickets next year begins May 1.

Decorum at the Masters is paramount. Golf writer Jeff Shain notes that fans at Augusta are not to be referred to as fans, but "patrons," who are on extreme good behavior for fear of risking excommunication from golf's revered high temple, patrolled as it is by the club's mutaween-like protectors of Golf Dude Orthodoxy.

Golf writer Bob Spiwak is among those who have noted the stark contrast between the cloistered, uncommercialized, pastoral grounds of the club and the loud jangle of commerce outside its gates.

"[R]unning about seven miles outside the hallowed entry gates of Augusta National Golf Club is Washington Boulevard," Spiwak wrote at cybergolf.com. "It is a big mess of strip malls and, during tournament time, the tentacles of commerce -- like a fungal infection -- reach down the streets feeding the boulevard for a mile on either side of the course. Counterfeit passes (which won’t work) are sold before the cops get to the sellers. Replica Augusta National flags, pins, towels, caps -- all manner of souvenirs -- are hawked. Any vacant space becomes a parking area; the closer you get, the more they cost. My press day pass would not allow entry to the media parking lot, and I ended up on someone’s lawn under a scraggly tree that scratched the rental car. The price was a reasonable fourteen dollars.

"The strip is an embarrassment to the club, almost a proclamation of Barbarians at the Gate. Once inside, it’s like a different world. That’s the way they want it, and that’s why you won’t get a glimpse of anything beyond those well-guarded gates. And maybe that is a good thing."

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richard.fausset@latimes.com

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